The inspector general's office is taking a hard look at Kiewit Corp., the contractor charged with handling the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project.
The audit follows Thursday's unanimous decision by the Metro Board of Directors to impose additional oversight covering claims from motorists and homeowners near the construction site who say they have been treated unfairly.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who requested the audit, wants the inspector general's office to review every damage claim sent to Kiewit to see whether each had merit, and whether Kiewit treated each claim equitably before denying it.
"These folks who live in this area put up with the mother of all public works projects," Yaroslavsky told Patch. "Let's find out what's really going on. [Kiewit] won't be let off the hook."
So far, 338 claims have been sent by Metro staffers to Kiewit, he said, and include property and vehicle damage. Yaroslavsky said an estimated 75 to 90 percent of these claims have been denied.
Claimants wait for months for a response from Kiewit, he said. "And then to have this contractor basically treat them like a flea is infuriating," he added. "And I feel their infuriation."
Metro spokesman Dave Sotero defended Kiewit's review of claims.
"They have a very rigorous process," Sotero told Patch. "They will show their records for how they arrive at decisions to allow a claim or not. So it's up to them to provide info to [the] inspector general."
Sotero said a motorist could be driving on the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass and something pops up and puts a crack in windshield.
"You file a claim with the contractor, saying that occurred as a result of construction acitivities," he said. "Then Kiewit studies it to allow the claim or not."
Since the $1 billion project to add a 10-mile, high-occupancy vehicle lane from the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway to the 101 Ventura Freeway began in 2009, Yaroslavsky said the impact on nearby communities has been significant.
Not only has traffic been affected, but property damage, noise and vibration at all hours of the night have resulted, he said. The project invoves the removal and replacement of three bridges, including the "Carmageddon" demolition of the Mulholland Bridge. The project also covers the realignment of 27 on and off ramps, widening of 13 underpasses and structures and construction of 18 miles of retaining and sound walls.
"I can't depend on any contractor, including this one, to be objective on this," Yaroslavsky said about Kiewit's claims process. "If they grant a claim, they have to pay for it. They have an interest in denying the claim because it saves them money, unless there's something so transparently obvious. And then to put the onus on residential property owners to hire experts to prove the contractor was wrong, that's just not right."
Yaroslavsky said he has mostly focused on residents who have claims and was not as familiar with the claims from motorists.
Sotero told Patch it is in Metro's best interest that the claims, legitimate or not, are addressed.
"We're going to be cooperating with all parties to make sure that happens," he said.
Between Montana Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood, there's a half-mile residential area right next to the 405. Sotero said those living in that area have been disproportionately affected by the project.
A spokesman for Kiewit told the Los Angeles Daily News that most of the claims have been from homeowners and not motorists, and he defended the company's claims process.
The inspector general's audit comes after officials told nearby residents the I-405 project is four to six months behind schedule.